Low Cadence on Steep Climb

Good morning, Everyone.

I tackled a pretty significant climb on Saturday with a group of guys. I can tell the training is working great. I felt awesome on most of the climb and felt more fit than others I was riding with.

We got to a few pitches where the gradient was anywhere between 9 and 21%. In these areas, I had difficulty keeping my cadence up. I dropped into the high 30’s at times and probably didnt average better than 55 for those sections.

My question is whether this is normal for a rider of my size or whether I need to make a change in gearing or fitness.

I am: 197lbs (I’ve lost about 32 lbs but could stand to shed maybe 10 more)
Riding a: 50/34 with an 11-28 cassette
On a: Specialized Tarmac
FTP: 261 as of three weeks ago
Currently in: Sustained power build

I know I could get an 11-32 cassette and that would make it a bit easier. But would it it be a significant difference if I am still trying to haul 197lbs up hill? Is it just a matter of hardening up? Even at low cadence, I was still below FTP 90% of the time but, it felt like I just couldnt push any higher of a cadence on that grade.

Any wisdom you have would be appreciated.


Cadence on a climb is down to power, gearing, and speed. If you want a higher cadence weigh less, make more power, or carry an easier gear. Ideally do all three. As the gradient outstrips your available power your cadence is going to grind down.


Sounds like you’re handling the situation fine. I would just try to compensate for the grinding sections by staying in that low gear when the gradient eases off and spinning quicker to relieve your legs a bit.

One thing you can do is try to keep the power down a little bit more on the gentler gradients, so you have more in the tank to go over threshold for the steeper sections. But if the climb already has you at pretty much maximum effort for the duration, then you can only go up it as fast as your legs will allow.

An 11-32 isn’t a bad idea, and it will make a difference. But better watts/kg will be the best long-term solution.


I am in nearly the same boat. I’m 200lbs with a 245 ftp on an older (1989) Steel bike with 52/42 with 11-25 cassette. Staying seated on climbs is not an option in this configuration.
On my MTB I went to a 12-36 cassette and have been able to tackle some serious climbs completely seated. I would assume that I can switch to a cassette that is better suited for climbing on the road bike with the same results.
With my bike being this old, my options are probably limited. You on the other hand should have many options available to you.

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Just threw some quick calculations together using online tools.

At 197lb on an 8kg bike, pedalling your 261 FTP up a 10% gradient, that will give you a speed of 8.82kph.

8.82kph on a 34/28 means a cadence of 58. 8.82kph on a 34/32 means a cadence of 66.

If you upped your FTP to 280, AND dropped those 10lb, you’d be going up a 10% slope at 9.83kph

On your 34/28, that would mean a cadence of 65. On a 34/32 it’d be 74.

So in conclusion, a 28 to a 32 cassette would have about the same impact on your cadence as losing 10lb and gaining 20 watts. But if you did both, you could up your cadence AND go faster.


It’s all about having the correct gearing for the type of terrain you are riding.

If you ride 20+ gradients often - then you will be much better off with the 32 - it’ll only give you ~10 extra cadence but you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it ages ago.

If it’s a once off steep hill then just grit it out - get out of the saddle and get through it.

Dunno about anyone else but for me to hold a reasonable cadence of ~60 on that type of gradient I’m pushing maybe 130% of FTP and that’s on a 34/32

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I’m 4w/kg and on a 34/28 I still sometimes have to grind up steep ramps unless they’re really short. So it really makes sense for anyone heavier or less powerful, or both, to use a larger cassette.

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Wow. Awesome. Thanks!

What tool are you using to do those calculations?

Thanks, again!

@dhaines83 Thanks for the feedback. This bike is slowing becoming my climbing bike as a prep for a race in June with 15K feet of climbing. So, probably worth the investment.




I’ve recently been digging through those sites for MTB gearing options.

As we have indoor trainers - do a cool little experiment. See if you can produce comfortable/maintainable power at 60, 50, 40 rpm. That should very quickly tell you exactly how many rpm you need for steep climbs.

Or just go get the 32 and you’ll wonder why you didn’t do it sooner. Possibly the best purchase I’ve ever made for my bike.


You need a bigger cassette. There is no shame in a bigger cassette! Even then, you will still find yourself grinding to a certain extent.

Your weight is ~89kg w/an FTP of 261 which gives you about 2.93 W/kg. This translates to no fun when climbing 9-21% grades. If you lose another 10lbs (~4kg), that is a very noticeable difference on the climbs even if your FTP remains the same.

Keep training, clean up your eating and watch the Watts :arrow_up: Kilos :arrow_down: Then, before you know it you will become a 85kg Pantani :grin:

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Agree on the bigger cassette - I would even say go 34 if you can, for a 1:1 ratio.

Prolonged 10-12% climbs will sap your cadence over time - so suggestions of others to try to pace / save some in the tank are good.

Honestly, 18-21% grades and higher, and EVERYONE is grinding. Hopefully those aren’t too long! Looking back at a ride I did where the last mile averaged 15% and last .3 mile was 25%, I averaged 57 with a 34/34 at 155 lbs and <3W/kg at the time.

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Being a bigger guy, I definitely feel your pain. I’m down to around 190 now, but was more like 210-215 when I started.

I got a CX bike with an 11-28 cassette and could barely pedal up some hills!

I quickly went to an 11-32 which at least made everything “grindable.” I actually still use the 11-32 (with a 50-34 front) on my road wheelset.

I ride quite a bit of gravel too, and a buddy set this up on his bike. I got the same setup and have had good success so far and have not needed the Road Link.

I’m doing a few gravel races this year and am looking forward to saving my legs a bit on some of those tough climbs! - - - edited to say the 11 speed cassette is the 11-40 option in the link - - -

195 lbs with 225 FTP and regularly see above 10% grades on my group rides. TR (and Coach Chad) is really raising my cadence. I have an XTR 11-40 with a Wolf tooth roadlink and love every minute of it!

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Some perspective…
Pro climbers who are way more talented, physically fit, and lighter than us will use 34x32. For example:

Froome is expected to use a gear ratio of 34x32 to fight the 11.9 per cent average gradient and to survive on the 20 per cent hairpin bends. He talked at length with Team Sky senior mechanic Gary Blem after the finish in Nervesa della Battaglia, keen that his bike was ready for the Zoncolan. Froome will apparently use a Shimano Ultegra cassette on his Pinarello Dogma F10 X-Light bike to have a 32-tooth cog. It will add around 100g to the weight of his bike, but that is better than struggling to turn a 30-tooth cog.

Yep…until then get a Ultegra 11-34 Cassette. Even better!

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I have the exact same setup on my road/gravel bike. Put the 11-40 on for a long gravel ride last year, and will probably just leave it on for road/gravel rides this year. Great for long sustained climbs around where I live.


Don’t forget that if you’re currently running a Shimano short cage rear mech, then a 28 is the maximum size you can run at the rear.

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This is a good point. Probably a good idea to chat to your Local Bike Shop about your options before just ordering a larger cassette and hoping it fits.

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